Kristin Chenoweth Returns to Her Roots for Hometown Concert on CD and a Thanksgiving Special on PBS November 28
By: Ellis Nasso
Tony and Emmy winner and "the li’l darling of Broadway" Kristin Chenoweth brings her myriad talents to a new CD, Coming Home [Concord Records] and this weekend [November 28 at 8 P.M.] in a Thanksgiving special on PBS, Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home, directed by Kenny Ortega.
Said to have "one of the most captivating voices ever to grace a Broadway stage," Chenoweth returned home to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where she was raised – adopted as an infant with Southern and Midwestern family values. She grew up singing in her church choir.
Now, she’s singing in a theatre named in her honor in concert mesmerizing her proud parents, old friends, and it seems a sizeable percentage of the city’s population of 98, 850 with her crystalline soprano.
"Oklahoma, and especially Broken Arrow, is a special place," says Chenoweth.
"It’s not Hollywood or New York. No one can say we’re not real. I grew up signing there. And when you sing, you sing from the heart."
She states that Oklahoma is such fertile ground for growing talent that the state has a higher than average number of talented people, many of
whom have excelled in the performing arts. Chenoweth has been inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, as well as the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
For a long time, Chenoweth has been active in trying to create a launch pad for Broken Arrow students who have sights set on a performance career. In 2012, the hometown girl’s accomplishments were honored by the 1,500 -seat theatre in the new performing arts center being named the Kristin Chenoweth Theatre.
"I wanted to perform it at home because I couldn’t imagine doing this very special album anywhere else," she points out. "When my concert was to be recorded and videoed for telecast on PBS, I thought what better place than in my home town." The plan was to set up shop there last August.
However, there was some trepidation. "I was coming home," she explains, "and it’s always nerve racking to perform in front of those you grew up with – an audience of people who watched me go through many phases in my life and career. There was my family, my ballet and voice teachers, old friends I was on the cheerleading squad with, those I went to church with and sang with.
‘‘I’m not going to lie," she adds. "It was daunting. I was nervous. I find it much easier to perform in front of strangers, so it was a bit scary, but also invigorating. It was freeing, and didn’t take long to feel at home."
Chenoweth admitted she’s often a bundle of nerves before performing on
any stage. She has some quirky rituals. "I become a motormouth before I got out. Then I quiet down, pray, and pop all my knuckles."
The singer/actress is somewhat of a paradox. She has a warm personality, is beyond outgoing, and has a voice that belies her diminutive statue – one that many a female vocalist would sell their soul to the devil for. Chenoweth grew up singing gospel, but often in TV appearances and in some roles she’s played she displays a bawdy sense of humor. And all those family values she grew up with are often at odds with some of the plunging necklines of outfits she wears.
The Coming Home CD, which joins an impressive list of available Chenoweth albums, shows no signs of fear, just 15 tracks of beautifully-rendered tunes that cover the spectrum from pop to Broadway. Songs include "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Maybe This Time." "My Coloring Book," "Bring Him Home," "Popular," "For Good," "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" and "I Was Here."
She came very close to feeling right at home. The set for her rendition of "Over the Rainbow" was a close approximation of her one-time bedroom.
A portion of sales from the CD will help fund programs at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center.
In tribute to a beloved teacher who was her mentor, and as a way to give back, Chenoweth initiated a program of master classes at Broken Arrow High School – "one of the proudest things I’ve done."
She has hopes of eventually having a summer arts institute camp, at the Kristin Chenoweth Theatre.
Mark Frie, former artistic director of Dallas’ Turtle Creek Chorale and who has performed in New York and worldwide in concert and onstage, is the director of the performing arts center.
Chenoweth, now in her mid-40s, will be back on Broadway in March playing glamorous film star Lily Garland pursued by one-time Broadway hit director Oscar Jaffee, played by Peter Gallagher. Co-starring will be Andy Karl, Mark Linn-baker, Michael McGrath, and, in the role of Letitia Primrose made famous by the great Imogene Coca, Mary Louise Wilson in a revival of Cy Coleman and Comden and Green’s On The Twentieth Century, directed by Scott Ellis with choreography by Warren Carlyle.
This gal’s unstoppable and quite the trouper. She’s a tireless fundraiser for numerous charities and has already written a memoir of her life/career to date, A Little Bit Wicked [2009, Simon and Schuster], which became a New York Times best-seller.
She’s doing all this and promoting her album while undergoing physical therapy from an almost fatal 2012 injury on the set of The Good Wife. In January, she’ll appear opposite Jennifer Lopez in Universal Pictures’ The Boy Next Door. On her roster also are an indie teen drama, Hard Sell, and Disney Channel’s live-action movie Descendants, in which she plays Sleeping Beauty’s grand guignol villainess Maleficent. In the can, but not yet shown/released are a film comedy The Opposite Sex, co-starring Eric Roberts, and a TV comedy Michah, the Axxhole Ghost.